Like Bob Keefer, I also worked as a psychiatric orderly many years ago, but in a private hospital in the suburbs outside St. Louis. Contrary to his assertion, shock treatments were not a relic of the past but a mainstay of the hospital regimen and I witnessed hundreds of electroconvulsive “treatments” (ECT), given mostly to older women. Since our society didn’t give meaningful roles to older women, they often became depressed. Psychiatrists told them they had a genetically determined brain disease and they were shocked. It was horrifying.
Shock treatments remain common in the U.S. with about 100,000 people getting it every year, and it’s even recommended for pregnant women. Keefer twice quotes the Treatment Advocacy Center, which pushes for the expansion of shock treatment. Doesn’t he know this? His own experience could be straight from Cuckoo’s Nest: “several patients held in isolation cells that looked like animal cages.”
The history of modern psychiatry includes electroshock, insulin shock, lobotomies and forced sterilization, directed disproportionately to women, people of color and the poor. Decent and caring people indeed work in psychiatry and mental health, just like they do in the criminal justice system, law enforcement and the military, yet abuse and oppression persist because of the systems, not the people.
Let’s indeed build humane asylums in the true sense of the word for those suffering from severe emotional distress, staffed with compassionate and caring workers. Just don’t let psychiatrists run it: History shows the Quakers did a much better job.
See more letters about “Bull Street” at EugeneWeekly.com